2012 1st Ave N.
Birmingham, Al 35203

Resident Portal: Existing Client? login here.


Tag: the magic city

Five Points Spotlight: Everybody Comes to Fat Sam's

fat sam's sandwich

Our favorite thing about Birmingham’s food scene: There’s almost always a local answer to chain options. What’s more, the local answer’s almost always better. A case in point is Fat Sam’s Sub Station, a Five Points South neighborhood staple.

One part Waffle House, one part Jimmy John’s, and all Five Point’s, Fat Sam’s offers high quality comfort food perfect for time-pressed, cash-strapped college students and everyone else.

Its section of five points is distinctively utilitarian, after all, designed to serve the UAB district and its neighbors to the south. There’s a computer repair shop and a laundromat in the same block, a hair salon and package store in the same strip. So it’s no wonder that Fat Sam’s ambience is a serviceable one.

But what’s so special about Fat Sam’s? There are fresh-cut French fries with a hint of skin for extra crispiness, and a 99-cent chicken biscuit on the breakfast menu. There are hoagies you can barely wrap your mouth around, smothered in Russian dressing. It’s not fancy, but it’s fast and delicious and far better than cold cuts have any right to be.

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Five Points is a neighborhood of long-standing establishments, and Fat Sam’s is no exception. They’ve been open for a quarter century, and we expect at least that much more.

Great neighborhoods, after all, hold onto small businesses like so many beloved family members. And that’s the way of it with Five Points South. The problem, though, is that you almost have to be part of the family tree to keep track of its many member branches.

With quick shifts between single and multi-family homes, the ramshackle and the sleekly renovated, the purely residential and the pockets of commercial, you almost have to live in Five Points to be truly in the know. It’s not a neighborhood for everyone, but–like Fat Sam’s–it tends to welcome everyone. And it just might be the neighborhood for you.

First Avenue Rocks and Birmingham's Fitness Trail

Image via First Avenue Rocks

In our experience, folks move to Birmingham’s urban core looking for a different kind of lifestyle, for unique offerings that aren’t available throughout the metro area. With its functional fitness attitude and pop art palette, the First Avenue Rocks climbing gym does not disappoint.

First Avenue Rocks is perfect when you want a modern, minimalist fitness approach along with a sense of fun. It’s exercise for folks who like camaraderie but hate group classes. And while sitting down and watching will prompt questioning expressions in most gyms, it’s the norm here.

This gym is not the kind of place where you drop in for a quick workout. Folks hang around to watch other people’s technique and soak up the strategy used to execute a tough route. But that casual communal learning makes it especially beginner-friendly.

And unlike the large-scale climbing wall at UAB, First Avenue Rocks does not require assisted climbing. The focus is on indoor bouldering, so you can pretty literally walk in as an absolute beginner and start climbing. Individual instruction is available if you’d like some guidance, though.

Either way, we think a session at First Avenue Rocks is a great way to embrace the area.

There’s a toughness about climbing that makes sense for the gym’s semi-industrial location between the Loft District and Lakeview. For years it’s been a place that’s convenient but off the beaten path. Lying just past the coming Rotary Trail, it’s in a strip of low brick buildings that have seen a gradual sprucing as surrounding districts grow toward each other.

Soon the Rotary Trail will connect those districts and add another marker of accessible fitness attitude in the area. After all, there’s the line of trails from Railroad Park to Sloss Furnaces, free group fitness at Railroad Park, and a drop-in-friendly climbing gym, all along First Avenue South. In fact, the just-released Parkside neighborhood branding promises a health-minded mobile mindset.

We’ve heard that urban environments are good for fitness by encouraging people to move more in their daily lives. Morgan Spurlock talked about the daily fitness fix of his New York life a decade ago in Supersize Me. But the development trajectory here goes above and beyond that standard.

There’s neighborhood walkability, after all, and there’s neighborhood fitness friendliness, which is another amenity altogether. If you’re looking for a healthy community lifestyle, this might be the area for you.

Summer Nights, BMA-Style

Image via Art on the Rocks

It’s easy to think of art museum events as belonging to a certain class, but Art on the Rocks proves that isn’t so. In fact, the Birmingham Museum of Art has proved itself a hip destination and a place to connect with arts beyond the visual. The secret to their success? Making the museum stand in for a great night out, while offering the kind of ambience no mere venue can match.

The art museum’s grand, modernist facade is a statement piece befitting Birmingham’s downtown center. At the edge of Linn Park, it has a presence to rival the courthouse and a similar level of stature in the community. For a long time, though, the art museum was only a city-wide institution, not a neighborhood one. These days it’s becoming a strong example of both, and we’re convinced that’s where its future lies.

If you’ve never attended Art On The Rocks, the museum describes it thusly: “Featuring the best of Birmingham culture, Art On The Rocks collaborates with local artists, downtown businesses, and breakthrough musical guests to offer three Friday nights of art, performances, giveaways, food, and drinks.”

This year, though, they’re upping the ante. Besides their classic formula of after-hours art and live music, they’ve given us more reasons to attend this year: sneak peeks at a new exhibit, food truck eats, VIP access, and a next-generation photo booth. We’ve even partnered with them to keep the party going (#AfterRocks) and bring it back toward our craft cocktail end of the neighborhood.

Vibrant events like these need new draws of course, but they also need points of continuity. We talked about Dave’s as a timeless anchor in Five Points, and we think the museum is a great example of that effect downtown. The Birmingham natives among us grew up with this museum, but we’re also seeing it grow with us.

The BMA has managed the tightrope walk of adapting its methods without losing sight of its mission. And that is no small feat. We know we’ve already praised them for making art matter, but it bears repeating. We think art museums make great neighbors.

Giving Thanks: A Citywide Spotlight


We’ve been thinking about the Birmingham developments that make us thankful, as you do this time of year. The list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a start while we wait for turkey:

Food culture

We’ve long believed that Birmingham’s food scene is one of its biggest draws, and the rest of the country is starting to agree. They’re not just remembering established favorites like Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings, either: Post Office Pies and Saws have both made best-of lists, and El Barrio earned a National Geographic mention last year.

Trending markets

With real estate in our name, it’s clear we always stood to earn on CNN Money’s projections of a strong Birmingham housing market for 2014, but we’re also excited about their implications for the city. “After years of investing in revitalization efforts — turning old warehouses into offices, opening new parks, building a minor league baseball stadium — Birmingham is finally seeing the big payoff,” according to CNN Money. “People are no longer fleeing from the inner city, new business are moving in and home prices are actually on the rise.”

Pedestrian connections

The upcoming Rotary Trail reminds us that Birmingham neighborhoods are characters, not enclaves, and they’re meant to interact with each other. Signs at Railroad Park advise pedestrians how close they are to nearby attractions like Uptown, and the Civil Rights Trail layers Birmingham’s difficult past into a DIY walking tour of the city center.

OnBoard Birmingham

This new Birmingham Business Alliance program encourages young professionals to invest in Birmingham as a community, not just a training ground. The program is a response to local companies’ complaints that talented recruits they’d trained were being lured elsewhere as they matured in their careers, reported the Birmingham Business Journal based on interviews with Waymond Jackson, the BBA’s vice president of workforce development. “The leadership of those companies believed a big part of the reason those workers were so easily swayed was because they never established a meaningful connection or roots in Birmingham to keep them here,” the journal explained.

Reclaimed architecture

The Federal Reserve building is slated for development, there are reports of a hotel joining us on the heaviest corner, and the Florentine is starting to be recognizable as a future restaurant/event space. It’s official: Birmingham’s best buildings are coming back to life. We can’t wait to make our new home in the Brown Marx annex, right at the center of Birmingham’s magic.

H2 communities

With construction in progress at both The Gladstone and Abbey Road, we’re excited to add a new build option to Birmingham’s single-family mix. And have we shared Abbey Road’s skyline views lately? Those alone deserve a thankful mention.

Thanks also for visiting this blog and sharing in our Birmingham vision; being part of this thriving community makes us feel blessed beyond measure.

Happy thanksgiving, y’all. May the pumpkin pie console you if the Iron Bowl doesn’t.

Bham Events: Art Crawl

We’re always fans of Art Crawl – the monthly loft district event highlighting local artists and venues every first Thursday from 5-9 p.m. – but never more so than when the holiday season is upon us. The local artists at Art Crawl have you covered, with affordable goods from prints to pottery to handmade jewelry. And if the thought of shopping makes you feel faintly itchy, remind yourself that Art Crawl allows you to enjoy fine adult beverages while you shop, and your attendance will be rewarded at the after-party hosted by Pale Eddie’s Pour House.

To whet your art appetites, we’re previewing some of our favorite items from the artists’ online portfolios:

Contemporary folk artist Kunkle crafts his colorful pieces on scrap wood, specializing in pop culture and literary references. We love his A Clockwork Orange head, Honest Abe, and “eat a book” series. Our current favorite is this special commission piece he made for a friend with a misbehavin’ cat.

Image via Art by Kunkle

Stoneface Ceramics creates small storage items that look pretty on a dresser or desk. This one probably needs to store our office candy.

Image via Stoneface Ceramics

Chris Davis creates pieces we buy for all the kids in our lives, then secretly keep for ourselves. His work has the kind of simple, bold shapes and colors that feel kid-friendly but hold their appeal at any age.

Image via Christopher Davis

Ever wondered about the trippy, anthropomorphized Miss Fancys on the back wall at Avondale Brewery? Paul Cordes Wilm is the guy who’s responsible. Besides larger works and the occasional art print tee, he tends to offer postcard prints of his work.  Pair these with small frames for your own budget art accents – we’ve seen a loft dweller use a framed bienvenidos print to dress up an otherwise generic condo door – or as small holiday gifts.

Image via Paul Cordes Wilm

When it comes to wearable art, you’ll find great copper pieces from Kat Griffith. This coiled copper bracelet feels modern and fun, especially with the soldered detail at the ends.

Image via Funky South Gallery

Silver Cicada Designs also makes wearable pieces, though maybe not in the way you’d imagine. We’d most likely use this soulful fox as wall art, but we can imagine repurposing it for next year’s Halloween costume.

Image via Silver Cicada Designs

And of course, some of the venues are great shopping spots in their own right. What’s On Second has all the vintage treasures you never knew you needed, until you did. Sojourns, which stocks gorgeous fair trade items from around the world, is our go-to for handmade greeting cards, children’s toys, and housewarming gifts. Charm is the very best costume jewelry store in town. Plus, we like to visit the semi-toothless small cat taxidermy, and we daydream about buying the hand-beaded deer head.

Go forth and crawl (handy event map here). Let us know what you saw/loved/bought.

Things We Love: Birmingham in the Fall

There are certain realities about Birmingham weather. One of them being that summers are hot, miserable, and best spent lying under/in front of/directly on top of a fan. By September, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to want to be outside. We congratulate ourselves on having made it to work most days and not making permanent pilgrimage to the beach.

Then fall finally hits, and we kind of wish we lived outdoors. Deep front porches and rooftop decks are the most valuable real estate, and all the best entertaining happens outside. At the same time, the city comes alive, and we can’t wait to go exploring. We humbly argue that Birmingham is possibly the best place on earth from late September through mid December.

We offer the following as evidence:

Image via Greek Food Festival

– Food festivals. The Greek Festival and St. George’s Middle Eastern Food Festival each offer delicious food to eat in or takeaway. They’re also handily located near parks (Railroad and George Ward, respectively) should you opt for an impromptu picnic. And you should.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. Nature’s refuge in the city steps up its offerings with first Saturday Wine and Cheese Hikes and third Friday Beer on the Back Porch. The hike is pretty self-explanatory. For the back porch nights, a $25 admission fee is worth dinner, music and three drink tokens, plus the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping nature by drinking beer. Everyone wins.

Image via BMetro

– Accessible culture. Festivals like Moss Rock and downtown’s ongoing Art Crawl bring art shows and local artists to everyday spaces. The Day of the Dead Festival adds Southern influences to the Mexican Day of Remembrance.

– Halloween without coats. Our Halloween costumes have infinite possibilities because they don’t need to be made of or covered by wool. Not that we’re endorsing sexy anything, but good old Batman looks better without a pea coat. (With this year’s cold snap, he might have needed a fleece, but at least he wasn’t battling snow flurries.)

Imave via What to Eat in Birmingham

– Fall menu items. The Brussel Sprout Kale Salad has made its triumphant return to Post Office Pies. Yes, you should still get pizza, but when was the last time you got excited about salad? Brewery menus count too, and we’re fans of the Pillar to Post Rye – aged in Bulleit Bourbon barrels – on tap at Trim Tab. Plus, the No Joka Mocha is back at Avondale Brewery, and it’s finally cool enough to crave a Coffee Oatmeal Stout at Good People.

That’s our list. What’s yours?

Bham Events: Christmas Tree Lighting

Image via AL.com

You could wait in line at the mall to see Santa this year, but we have a better idea: Say hello at Birmingham’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. He’ll be without elf entourage, but he should have a sleigh.

Held Tuesday in Linn Park beginning at 5 p.m., the annual event promises an enormous dose of holiday spirit without the consumer spending pressures. Instead, it offers an extra-large evergreen, Ramsey High School’s Concert Choir, and local broadcasting and comedy powerhouse Eunice Elliott.

Mostly, we like the way these events make the Christmas season a community event (AL.com reported last year’s crowd at “several hundred”). Listening to music and decorating a tree are things you could do at home, but there’s something extra charming (and dare we say Christmas-y) about enjoying them with a crowd of your fellow Birmingham residents.

If you want to make a full night of it, we have an itinerary in mind:

  • Christmas Tree Lighting
  • McWane Center Winter Wonderland exhibit
    Attempt the Ice Slide, which the center promises “allows kids and grown-ups alike to take the plunge down a 40 foot tube slide covered in holiday lights.” Other attractions include a 70-foot zip line, and an expanded McWane Train.
  • Christmas window tours
    Our current favorite is the Standard Furniture showroom, but there’s a colorful display near the Paramount, and John’s City Diner has classic holiday window art. Tell us what other favorites you find.
  • Drink some liquid Christmas Spirit
    If you’re traveling with little ones, we suggest hot cocoa for all at Urban Standard. If you’re an adults-only crowd, why not create a Christmas cocktail challenge at The Collins Bar? Let us know what they mix for you.

It’s officially the season, so merry everything, y’all!